8 Ways Reading Helps With Your Mental Health

by Alex Weiss

Reading a book a day keeps the stress away — seriously. Books are a form of entertainment, but they're also more beneficial in ways that you may not have ever imagined. If you picked up a habit of reading as a youngster and still read like Rory Gilmore to this day, then you probably already know this to be true: reading can boost your mental health — and that's not just my opinion; there are studies and research that backs it up.

Like eating right and exercising to maintain physical health, reading strengthens the muscles in your brain and can help you wind down after a long, stressful day, and it can even improve skills like memory and focus over time. And if you do enjoy reading but don't do it regularly or feel like you need an extra boost in keeping your mind at bay, I've got some valid reasons and scientific facts to back up why you should start visiting bookstores more often.

So no matter what has you feeling down, or whether you want to take some steps in creating a lifelong healthy habit to help out your mental health, books are the key. Pick up your favorite fantasy book, sci-fi adventure, or contemporary best-selling YA novel, and get to reading after you find out how reading helps your mental state with these eight facts:

1. Reading Helps You De-Stress

According to a study done by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. Stress levels and heart rates were monitored while trying out a variety of relaxing methods, such as listening to music, going for a walk, and having a cup of tea — but reading was the strongest method in helping the brain and body relax. So next time you come home from a long, stressful day at work, pick up a book and get lost in it for a few hours.

2. Reading Makes You More Empathetic Towards Others

If you grew up as an avid reader, odds are you have some talent when it comes to empathizing with others and understanding difficult emotions. Why? The University of Buffalo studied this idea and found that the stories we read, the characters we relate with and learn with, helps us understand different ways of life. Empathy is even argued to be one of the most important skills for parents to teach children so that they can grow to understand the world and the people around them in a healthy, positive way.

3. Reading Can Be Used As A Form Of Therapy

While reading, or especially rereading a book, have you ever felt so close to a character or fictional situation that it seemed to give you answers for your own problems? If so, you aren't alone. Reading can be seen as a form of therapy, according to Cristel Russell, a consumer behavior researcher at American University. Seeing characters go through something difficult might bring up your own past and unresolved conflicts, and allows you to see a healthy or non-healthy way of dealing with those issues.

4. Reading Increases Your Intelligence

While this may come as no surprise, reading books — yes even fiction books — helps your brain grow in more ways than one. Novels introduce you to new words, which advances your vocabulary. A larger range of vocabulary is linked to higher test scores. So really, there's no reason not to be actively reading.

5. Reading Also Improves Your Memory

Need help finding your keys or wallet at least once a week? Consider reading more often. Reading exercises and enhances the memory muscles in your brain. This happens because reading forces us to be alert, pay attention, remember small details, and follow along a string of words for hours at a time. So get your reading workout on, and improve those memory skills of yours.

6. Reading For A Lifetime Makes Your Brain Stronger

Keeping your mind active and working is one of the best ways to keep your brain strong and healthy. A study found that people who were actively mentally engaged, whether it be reading or another type of mental engagement, had a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline, compared to people who weren't actively engaging their brain and declined 48 percent faster. So no matter what your age is, pick up a book and keep your brain in shape!

7. Reading Can Reduce The Chance Of Alzheimer’s Disease

If you read at least an hour every day, you may be preventing Alzheimer's disease. Reading is proven to enhance brain power and memory skills by forging new brain pathways, and in return, keeping the chance of Alzheimer's low.

8. Reading Helps You Sleep Better

According to Mayo Clinic, creating a bedtime routine, like reading a few chapters from a book (not an e-reader since bright screens keep your brain more awake), will help you sleep better. As previous points show, reading helps you wind down and relax, making it the perfect thing to do before catching some z's.

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